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Relaxation. Isn’t that often one’s motive behind planning a vacation?
When finalizing a trip, you might imagine that a weeklong jaunt in another country will leave plenty of time to unwind. But with jam-packed itineraries, time-zone changes, and efforts made to acclimate yourself to a new culture, relaxation seems a near impossible feat. Let’s be honest – once flight time, transportation, and checking-in and out of your accommodations are calculated, you have already lost half a day on both ends of your trip.
Gain it back.
My advice? Take a bath.
Do not shy away from the fact that you wish to indulge such a selfish luxury, when you could instead be exploring the terrain. Take a bath!
Public bathhouses are commonplace in many foreign countries. I have personally visited two, and will provide a front to (bare) back review of both.
Fez, Morocco – Name and location unknown
This was my first experience in a public bathhouse. Since Morocco is a Muslim country, its public steam baths, called hammams, separate men and women. Public bathing is very much part of the country’s culture, so I encountered no difficulties seeking one out in Fez. The hammam was located in Fez’s old city, or medina. I had become acquainted with a very kind owner of one of the city’s many riads, guesthouses, and he arranged for a member of his staff to accompany me to the hammam. Often riads will organize such trips for guests, so this is a fine request to make.
I highly recommend asking a native to help plan your trip to a hammam, particularly if it is not a highly commercialized one. I did not encounter anyone who spoke more than a few words of English at the hammam, but I did get to practice my Spanish and pantomime skills.
After arriving at the hammam, you will pay a small entry fee, usually under $10 USD.
You can pay an additional fee to get scrubbed down by an attendant.
It is advised that you bring a towel and a change of underwear. Flip-flops are also useful, but not necessary. You will need to purchase your own black soap, a traditional Moroccan commodity, and a loofa. These items can be found in markets throughout the city for a very low price.
You may want to bring your own shampoo and conditioner, but I opted not to. It is impossible not to get your hair wet though, so be mindful that you will walk out of the hammam with a soaking wet head. If it suits you, bring a hat, headband, or hair elastic.
The hammam should contain small lockers to store your things, but locks did not seem as commonplace.
The Bathing Process
Once inside the cavernous bathing area, you will receive a plastic bucket – fill it with water as many times as you want or use it to sit on while you scrub.
Next, be sure to interact! The hammam is a place to make friends. Trust me, I met two young women who loved the fact that I was an American, and we exchanged contact information in broken English before I left. Hammams are social venues, and if I understood the dialect I am sure I would have heard endless tidbits of gossip.
The women you meet inside the hammam will take you under their arms. They may invite you to sit with them and their daughters or friends. Or, they may quite literally use their arms to scrub your back and hair.
There are no rules of how to properly bathe. The only rule is that you must emerge squeaky clean.
Baden-Baden, Germany, The Friedrichsbad
Over 100 years ago, Mark Twain read my mind. He is famously quoted for stating, “Here at the Friedrichsbad you lose track of time within ten minutes and track of the world within twenty…”
The Friedrichsbad invites a Roman-Irish bathing tradition into its historical walls, framed with neo-Renaissance architecture. Opulent in style, the structure is by no means out of place in the town of Baden-Baden, which served as the long-time playground for Europe’s royal and esteemed society. Today, it continues to attract an elite crowd.
The Friedrichsbad is open seven days a week and accepts appointments or walk-ins. The cost of entry is fairly priced (I paid roughly $40 USD), for what you get in exchange. Aside from experiencing its unique thermal baths, the decor you will see inside the Friedrichsbad is tantamount to viewing the interior of one of Europe’s lustrous old churches and castles.
Upon your arrival, a front desk associate will greet you warmly. He or she is most likely trained to respond ‘hello’ in whichever language you initiate the interaction, since the Friedrichsbad attracts an international audience.
The Friedrichsbad offers separate days for men and women, except in its largest thermal pool, which men and women share. Co-ed bathing is allowed four out of seven days of the week.
The Bathing Process
You will be directed upstairs into a large changing area, given brief instructions the Friedrichsbad’s numerical system of treatments, and off you go. The Friedrichsbad is lauded for its ‘seventeen stages to well being’. Unsurprisingly, the Germans have calculated the precise time to be spent in each stage, in order to gain maximum treatment benefits. But do not ever feel rushed…you can circulate through the Friedrichsbad as many times as you’d like.
The first stage is a cold thermal water shower, followed by two warm- and hot-air rooms. The next fourteen stages include two more showers, a soap and brush massage, and several thermal baths of varying temperatures.
Wondering how it feels to bathe with men? There is an air of maturity amid Friedrichsbad’s clientele. I could have looked southward upon many men, and they could have inappropriately directed their eyes towards me in return. Sneak a glance, sure. But your eyes will be drawn more to the marble mosaics decorating the Friedrichsbad’s ceilings and walls than to any other anatomical sight.
You will receive a warm, fluffy towel to dry off with and a staff member will escort you into a room with about ten different kinds of creams, which you or an attendant can lather over your buttery skin. Proceed to the sun-bathed rest area, where lounge chairs, magazines, and hot tea await.
There is a rounded balcony to wander onto, where you may look down and smirk, knowing that you could very well flash the tourists snapping photographs of the famous Friedrichsbad. But you will keep your secret and return to a lounge chair, slipping back into complete relaxation.
This story was curated by Erica Bibby